Snack Crack

I’m in love with Pretz — crispy little breadsticks covered in salt and umami.  In Nagoya we did a riverside taste test: clockwise from the top left, we tried salad サラダ, gyoza 餃子, black pepper chicken wings 手羽先, and citrus すだち. The black pepper wings were the obvious winner.

A quick Google search of Pretz cemented my love — check out the YouTube cache here. Warning, it may cause seizures. Please take note that Pretz is pronounced like the classy Pennsylvania gas establishment Sheetz (Ah Sheetz! I dropped my Pretz!), not like the Pennsylvania snack food, the pretzel. The recommended method for eating Pretz is to snap them in half. I prefer to inhale them, teeth continuously chomping like the wood chipper in Fargo. “Where is Pancakes House?” Who cares, I have Pretz.

Snack food companies in Japan are good at throwing new, crazy flavors at you so you’ll continue to buy their products, as if the addict needs another excuse. A recent find, just butter ジャガバタ:

And there are many, many more. Sorry crafts, it looks like I have a new hobby.

The Things They Carried Were Cats

When I see a cat cafe in Tokyo, I try to peer in the window, but Ang says no, laughs, and then steals my candy.

Ang is aggressively allergic to cats, and I’ve been denied, DENIED from entering cat cafes. But when a friend visits, there is great pressure to entertain. So while Ang worked, I took a visiting friend to a cat cafe in Shinjuku, and it was special.

We wash our hands before we enter the cat room, take off our shoes, and put on a visitor badge. Is this a cafe, or an institution?

We’re given instructions. Let sleeping cats lie. Do not suppress the cats.

As an employee opens the door for us, a cat darts out into the entrance room, but then slows to a crouch. The cat knows it has nowhere to go.

Forty cats lounge around a two-floor cafe. This is the nursing home rec room of a crazy cat lady’s dreams.

The furniture is a bit slick, easy to clean I suppose, and the smell is akin to 40 cleaned cats. An unpleasant smell, but a clean version of it.

A couple of young girls play Wii, ignoring the cats. The cats do just as good of a job ignoring all of us. Shelves on the walls and staircase give cats places to be out of reach of our frantically affectionate hands. I feel a bit like I’m in a remake of The Birds, but with cats. With cat eyes on us from above,we descend the stairs, and we descend into madness.

More cats.

Cats on totem pole constructions, cats on the counters, tables and shelves. I hear a cat snarl upstairs. Perhaps the Wii teenager has finally taken interest. Perhaps the Wii teenager is now dead.

A young salaryman in a white shirt and black pants pulls a sparkled ball out of the toy box. He rolls the toy toward a cat, but the cat doesn’t move. The ball jingles as it hits the cat in the paw, but still, the cat doesn’t react. She just looks to her left, looking for something that isn’t us. We all laugh, and then move on to the next cat, which had hoped to be invisible in its stillness. We see you cat. We see you.

Only one man seems to have mastered the art of affection. He is slumped in the corner on a floor cushion. His rumpled suit is too big for him, and six cats surround him. He stares ahead, paying no attention to the cats, or to us. He alternates between sipping his iced coffee, staring ahead, and pulling out pinches of shredded chicken from a plastic container. He barely looks at the cats as he feeds them, and he does not pet them.

My friend tries to pet a cat, any cat. They wait for her to approach, and then dart off, trying to catch a few winks before someone else comes for them.

“Come here, kitty. Come here.” There are equal parts frustration and joy in her voice.

But the cats only speak Japanese.

A Weekend in Pictures

Hello! I’m back, at least physically if not-quite mentally. We spent the weekend with friends in Aichi prefecture, and it was fantastic.  Here’s a look at our weekend and some of the reasons I love summer in Japan.

We started the weekend with a proper lunch, prepared in Nagoya’s hitsumabushi 櫃まぶし style.

The evening found us in yukata 浴衣 at the Nagoya Castle summer night festival.

Mmm, cream puff.

Sunday meant a trip to Gifu for a river swim.

Then a post-swim hike.

Back in Kisogawa, as we waited for the hanabi 花火, the sunset almost outdid the fireworks show.

After some of the best fireworks I`ve seen (according to our friend, the display was 1/6th as big as others), it was off to an onsen. It rained a bit as we sat in an outdoor pool, cooling our faces. That night, curled up on the tatami mat, I never slept so well.

Soba School

While in Nagano Prefecture a few weeks ago, we learned how to make soba noodles from scratch. I’m not going to provide commentary, so you’ll have the same semi-clueless, watch-and-mimic experience as me:

Got it? Now time to eat!  They cooked up our noodles while we headed downstairs to the restaurant.

A satisfying feast.

Summer stabbin’, had me a blast ♫

Summer stabbin’, happened so fast. ♫

Met a crafter, crazy for me. Met a tea towel, cute as can be.

Ahem. OK, enough of that. Want to know something sad? I actually Googled the lyrics to Summer Nights to make sure I had them right. Of course I had them right. (Head shake.) Silly Angie.

But back to crafting (Dan, I’m back!). I bought this pre-printed cloth from Hobbyra Hobbyre in April. I love the pattern of the dancing fūrin 風鈴, a glass wind chime which catches the wind and creates a quiet tinkling sound. These pop up around Japan during the summer. The delicate sound is meant to remind us of a breeze, to help us feel cool.

I’ve had the windows open a lot this past week, and I can hear a fūrin from somewhere nearby. The clinking sounds, and my blue fingers stained from the indigo-dyed sashiko yarn, remind me of eating blueberries and sitting on my grandmother’s balcony during the summer. She let us make the best forts on that balcony.

This design is different from what I usually do, which is the more traditional white-on-blue. I enjoyed trying something new, even if I learned a few things the hard way.

First, curvy lines are trickier than straight ones. Second, changing colors all the time is tedious. Or maybe I’m lazy. Third, dark thread on a light background fabric means you have to be careful and keep a tidy back, or your fly-away ends will show through and make your finished towel look terrible.  I had to go back with a needle and thread and tack down all my loose ends, which was a bummer because I thought I was done, and then I wasn’t.

Hopefully these summer dreams won’t be ripped at the seams. Whoa-oh-oh. ♫

Anyone else have a summer project?

Yen Rules Everything Around Me

Three stories dominate the news right now in Japan:

1: We may or may not be eating radioactive beef/spinach

2: In the U.S. the Tea Party may or may not be but definitely will send the world back into economic turmoil

3: The Dollar vs. The Yen. The sweet, sweet yen is strong right now, and everyone in Japan is checking their salary to see how much it would be in dollars so we (ok, I) can feel good about the fake raise we (but I can’t be the only who does it) got.

But it also means I do the math in my head when I’m grocery shopping. It’s a weird thing to tie my current home to my previous one.

“Why the hell is this apple $4? Yesterday it is was $3.50.” I grumble and hunch my shoulders. And then I don’t buy the apple, because maybe it will be down to $3.50 again tomorrow when the dollar will trade a bit stronger. But the apple is still ¥300, just like it was yesterday. It doesn’t make any sense for me to think about the dollar, but I do.

The moral of the story is that I’m not a rational thinker. Or maybe it’s that I don’t understand basic economics.  No wait, I need to eat more apples. Yea, that’s it. Apples.

Isn’t this supposed to be an adorable craft blog? Hurry back, Ang. I’m getting my grubby weird mitts all over this thing.